COLUMBUS, Ohio — At Ohio State, the worst of times has become the best of times.
The Buckeyes have suffered just two losses to Michigan since Jim Tressel took over in 2001, thoroughly owning the rivalry during the 21st century. The fifth-year seniors on this squad could become the fifth different group in that stretch to collect five pairs of gold pants during their career, joining the recruiting classes of 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2012. What’s most remarkable is this run of success came after one of the Buckeyes’ lowest periods in this rivalry.
Under John Cooper, the Buckeyes endured a 2-10-1 stretch against Michigan in the 1980s and 90s, with several of those losses costing them a shot at a national championship. Losses in 1995 and 1996 came with the Buckeyes ranked No. 2, and in 1993 and 1997 they entered ranked No. 5 and No. 4, respectively, before losing to Michigan.
What’s interesting is that Ohio State hasn’t really gotten lucky during this run. The last time an underdog won a game in this rivalry was in 2004. The Buckeyes have simply been better than the Wolverines over the last decade and a half. How did that happen? Here’s a look at some of the factors that have helped Ohio State make Michigan miserable.
Ohio State took a bit of a chance when it hired a coach from FCS program Youngstown State to replace Cooper, but Tressel made the administration look like geniuses. He guaranteed a road win over Michigan in his first season and delivered it. But he also won against everyone else, too. Tressel won a national championship in his second season and went on to claim six Big Ten titles during his decade in Columbus.
The 2011 season under interim coach Luke Fickell wasn’t ideal, but it also led to the hiring of Urban Meyer. Under Meyer, the Buckeyes have been one of the top programs in the country and won a national championship in the 2014 season.
Michigan, on the other hand, hasn’t had nearly as much success with hiring coaches. Lloyd Carr, a national championship coach himself, couldn’t match Tressel’s success in the 2000s and eventually retired after the 2007 season. The Wolverines dropped off a cliff with the hiring of Rich Rodriguez and continued a decline when they replaced him with Brady Hoke. Jim Harbaugh has helped turn around the program since coming aboard for the 2015 season, but he hasn’t been able to beat Meyer.
For much of Tressel’s time at Ohio State the two schools recruited pretty evenly — with Michigan having a slight edge — but the past decade has been all Buckeyes. Take a look at the recruiting rankings from each team over the past 10 years.
247 Sports Composite Rankings, 2008-17
|Year||Ohio State rank||Michigan rank|
|2017||No. 2||No. 5|
|2016||No. 4||No. 8|
|2015||No. 7||No. 37|
|2014||No. 3||No. 20|
|2013||No. 2||No. 4|
|2012||No. 5||No. 6|
|2011||No. 6||No. 30|
|2010||No. 18||No. 17|
|2009||No. 5||No. 10|
|2008||No. 10||No. 11|
Having better players isn’t the only piece of the puzzle, but there’s no better place to start. Where would Ohio State be without Terrelle Pryor, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott or any other of the numerous high-profile recruits who never lost to Michigan? The recruiting advantage the Buckeyes built up in 2014 and 2015 is paying off right now.
It’s one thing to have good recruits, but it’s another to develop them. Make no mistake — Ohio State has done a better job of that than Michigan during this span.
From the 2002 to 2017 NFL drafts, Ohio State has had 103 players drafted and 24 first-round draft picks. In that same time, Michigan has had 63 players drafted and nine first-round draft picks. The recruiting gap between the two teams hasn’t been that stark.
In the 2001 NFL Draft, which featured Michigan players who’d dominated Ohio State, Michigan had three first-rounders and two more second-rounders. Over the next 16 drafts, they managed just nine first-round picks.
No position on the field is more important than quarterback, and Ohio State has had a sizable advantage there during its Wolverines domination.
The list of Buckeyes quarterbacks to start against Michigan in the last 17 years includes Craig Krenzel, Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor, Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. The Wolverines haven’t been quite so lucky. Chad Henne went 0-4 against the Buckeyes from 2004-07, and the next couple years weren’t any kinder with Nick Sheridan in 2008 and Tate Forcier in 2009. Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner were improvements, but they combined for just one win. Since Gardner left, it’s been a revolving group of quarterbacks who haven’t been able to solve Ohio State.
Getting it done
When it comes down to it, Ohio State has delivered when it mattered. Since 2001, seven of the games have been within a touchdown and the Buckeyes won six of those.
In 2002, Will Allen stepped in front of Braylon Edwards, grabbing an interception that preserved a 14-9 win. In 2006, Ted Ginn recovered Michigan’s desperation onside kick to clinch the top-ranked Buckeyes’ 42-39 win over the No. 2 Wolverines. In 2013, Tyvis Powell picked off a two-point conversion pass when Michigan played for the win instead of the tie. And in 2016, Curtis Samuel ripped out Michigan’s heart in overtime with a game-winning touchdown one play after a much-debated video review confirmed an Ohio State first down.